Friday, April 21, 2023

Wisdom From Above

On Wednesday, April 19th, 2023, I published an article in my local newspaper, Keith County News. I wanted to reprint it here for those who don't subscribe.

This week our Tuesday Morning Bible Study group will finish a nine-week study on James. James is one of my favorite books in the Bible because it is filled with practical advice on how to live a fruitful Christian life. Though it was not seen as the most important of books by some in the faith, such as Martin Luther who called it an Epistle of Straw due to its focus on works instead of faith, it is still an important book because faith without a faithful response is not much of a faith at all. 

James focuses on two types of wisdom. There is wisdom from above (from God), and there is the wisdom of the world. Worldly wisdom is all those things that the world values apart from God, primarily selfish desire and ambition. Chapter 1:14-15 says, “Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them. Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and when sin grows up, it gives birth to death.” In other words, it is our selfish desire and ambition that lure us away from God to pursue what we think is best. This was Adam and Eve’s sin, they were tempted and lured away from God because they thought they knew best (Gen. 3:1-7).

In contrast, James tells us in verses 16-17, “Don't be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.” It is only through God that good things come. We can follow our own guidance which leads to bad things, or we can follow God’s and it will lead to good. 

Some of the advice found in James would certainly benefit the division and ugliness we find in our society today. Chapter 1:19 says, “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.” As I think about the angry words on social media by folks who shoot off negative comments, and those in the political arena who can’t help but have something critical to say about the opposing party, I wonder how much better the world would be if we were a bit slower to speak a bit quicker to listen to the other side. James addresses this further in chapter three where he talks about the dangers of the tongue (speech). Verses 7-10, “People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God's likeness. Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn't be this way!”

But there is so much more in James that we would all be remiss if we didn’t pay a bit more attention to such as not showing favoritism, especially to the rich and powerful (2:1-13). These verses also speak to mercy over judgment (v.13). Chapter 2:13-18 talks about being humble, truthful, pure, peaceful, gentle, obedient, fair, and genuine. 

In chapter 4, we get some strong words on the root of conflict in and out of the church. Verses 1-2a, “What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don't they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don't have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can't get, so you struggle and fight.” In verses 11-12 we get the antidote, “Brothers and sisters, don't say evil things about each other. Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it. There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you?” In other words, we have the continued theme of selfish desire and ambition leading to trouble, but when we let God be the source of who we are, and respond with humility and mercy, we just might find peace in the midst of our conflict.

James closes his letter in chapter five with some excellent closing words for this message as well. In verse seven he encourages us to be patient as we wait for the Lord. Don’t complain about each other but instead honor each other. In verse 12, James talks about integrity, “speak with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ or else you may fall under judgment.” And finally beginning in verse 13, he calls us to pray for one another when we are sick and sing for joy when we are happy. 

And that is my prayer for us today, that we may love one another, celebrate together in our joys, and offer prayer and support in our struggles. For this is what I believe it means to respond in faith to the one who is the source of every good gift. Amen.

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